God Save the Branding Queen: A tribute by Robin Wight

The queen showed she was 'an instinctive manager of the Royal Family brand,' according to the founder of the Ideas Foundation and WCRS, who lived through all of her reign.

Queen Elizabeth II in profile in front of black background
Queen Elizabeth II

My first experience of our much loved and much mourned Her Majesty The Queen was in 1953 when I watched her coronation on a tiny black-and-white TV screen. It was also my first time watching a TV set.

So, in this sense, Her Majesty and media innovation (aka television) arrived at the same time in my life.

In 1953, in case the younger readers of Campaign thought that Twitter and Facebook have always been with us, it was a world where electronic media, mobile phones, ITV, Channel 4, Sky and the whole cacophony of multichannel TV, not to mention the excitement of Netflix and Disney+, hadn’t been conceived, let alone invented.

And very few of the top 20 advertising agencies today were alive and kicking in 1953. Only Grey, McCann, Ogilvy and a few others survive.

But others, like Erwin Wasey, the London Press Exchange, Dorlands, Ted Bates and S H Benson, Masius and even the mighty J Walter Thompson have all failed to survive the “Long may she reign over us” era.

Although Her Majesty was not directly responsible for the great explosion of media, she was a major player in the world of branding that flourished as a result.

An instinctive manager of the Royal Family brand

Her Majesty would probably have hated to be regarded as a “brand”, yet she was an instinctive manager of the Royal Family brand.

Her Christmas broadcasts took the form of a “brand review” when she reported to her “consumers” the story of the Royal brand in any particular year.

As a wise brand leader, she presented her annus horribilis of 1992 with honesty and accuracy – the sad end of the marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana and the fire that caused major damage to Windsor Castle.

And “recollections may vary” beautifully burst Meghan’s Hollywood bubble in 2021.

In all this management of Family issues, Her Majesty protected the reputation of her brand, making the Royal Family the world’s most admired brand because of the power of her convictions.

The heart of her achievement was that Her Majesty was a natural conviction brand.

To HM, her Coronation Oath meant that she had been anointed by God to deliver on her unswerving duty: no brand ever had such a purpose. And it was this inner conviction that drove her forward over the 70 years of her reign.

She did not need any of the weapons of social media to manage her brand. Largely initiated by her brilliant consort, the Duke of Edinburgh, she communicated with subtle effectiveness.

Though Her Majesty did have a Royal website and Royal Twitter and even Royal Facebook, this was mere digital plumbing. It was her natural compassion, her utter integrity, her driving conviction and her ability to embrace more changes than any monarch in our history that has sustained the Royal brand over 70 years.

Prince Philip was certainly more of a media person than Her Majesty – witness his love of innovation, his commitment to young people through The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and his ability to puncture the pomposity of royalty with jokes (admittedly sometimes in poor taste).

Her Majesty, as the brand manager, would hold her fire on all these issues that could have brought controversy. Though not lacking in spontaneity, she was cautious and considered and always provided the vital component for her brand of continuity.

The power of continuity

It is a manager’s use of continuity as a brand weapon that our industry should emulate more.

The temptations of social media have meant that continuity as the ultimate driver of brand success has been so frequently discarded.

We sang God Save the Queen happily for all those years. But we don’t, to make an absurd comparison, hear BMW talking about the Ultimate Driving Machine or Coca-Cola talk about The Real Thing.

Her Majesty remained "The Real Thing" throughout her 70 years.

If more brands had followed the continuity model of Her Majesty The Queen – built around continuity, with trust, conviction and respect at its centre – they would be more successful.

“What would Her Majesty The Queen have done?” is a question that might even now improve many marketing plans that, too often, revert to a zig-zag strategy in the pointless quest for a novelty.

For all her great age, Her Majesty always seemed to be part of the new world.

And the fact that the monarchy is still so strong recognises that even those who didn’t speak to her regarded her as somebody very special in their lives.

She achieved with her instincts what no mere commercial brand ever achieved with their focus groups, management consultants and, yes, advertising agencies.

I would argue that she has made the Royal brand stronger today than when she succeeded to the throne all those years ago.

During the Platinum Jubilee celebrations earlier this year, when I worked with a group of teenagers from around the U.K. on an Ideas Foundation brief to get young people to celebrate the values of The Queen, I found respect and enthusiasm.

One poster full of brilliant ideas by 14- and 15-year-olds shows how Her Majesty inspired young people. And this love and respect didn’t exist only in the U.K.

The transfer of the British Empire into the Commonwealth, with its 53 independent nations – and many still with the Queen as their sovereign –  should surely win the Advertising Effectiveness Award of all time, if it were not such a trivial comparison.

Great brand leaders build their successors. And in King Charles III and – later – Prince William, I am sure we have sovereigns who have learnt their instinctive branding skills at the foot of this extraordinary woman.

Her Majesty has sadly left us.
 But the strength of the Royal Family and its brand will be her living legacy.

Robin Wight CBE is founder of the Ideas Foundation and a co-founder of WCRS

Photo credit: Getty Images

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